The U.S. opioid addiction crisis kills about 128 people daily, according to 2018 data from the National Institutes for Health (NIH). Prescription opioid abuse alone costs the U.S. almost $80 billion a year in treatment, legal, health and productivity costs. Learn more about what exactly opioids are, who’s at risk, and what to do to get help and stay safe.
Types of Opioids
Opioids are drugs that are used for pain relief and relaxation. Some types are made from the opium poppy plant, while others called synthetic opioids are made by chemists in labs.
Prescription opioids include:
Illegal opioids include:
- Street fentanyl
About 80% of people addicted to heroin began with prescription opioids, says the NIH.
According to 2018 data:
- About 2 million Americans were abusing prescription opioids.
- About 526,000 people were addicted to heroin.
- Around 20% to 30% of prescription opioid users could be abusing them.
- Up to 12% of those abusing prescription opioids could develop an addiction.
Fentanyl, Benzos, and Overdoses
Prescription fentanyl can be 50 times more powerful than morphine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Street fentanyl is even stronger, and it is often combined with heroin, which increases the chances of overdose, experts say.
“Much of the supply around the country is contaminated with fentanyl, and in many places, you can’t find heroin, it’s all fentanyl... so that’s been responsible with a blip over the last few years in overdoses,” Andrew Tatarsky, PhD, a psychotherapist and founder of the Center for Optimal Living in New York City, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
Benzodiazepines, a class of calming drugs for issues like anxiety or insomnia, are involved in about 30% of opioid overdoses. The CDC advises that doctors not prescribe benzos and opioids together.
Who’s at Risk?
- Drug addiction could be about 50% genetic, or passed on in families.
- About 50% of addicts have been diagnosed with mental health issues.
- About 50% of those who have been diagnosed with mental health issues could develop a substance use disorder.
That said, anyone could be susceptible to reaching for a substance to cope with life stress.
“The social conditions of our lives—whether it’s economic insecurity, job loss, relationship strife, family challenges, loss—those social conditions can create emotional challenges, anxiety, depression, grief, hopelessness, frustration, anger,” Tatarsky says. “We all have a breaking point, and when we reach that breaking point and we don’t have significant support to manage, I think we’re all vulnerable to turning to a substance.”
Harm reduction is the idea that if you're not ready to quit, you could still lower your health risks. Harm reduction includes:
- Using clean needles from community clinics to prevent infections.
- Education about dosage.
- Fentanyl awareness in communities.
Another harm reduction method is drugs like methadone, a prescription opioid that can replace heroin while reducing the risk of an overdose.
Naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, is a drug that can reverse overdoses. Research indicates that widespread use of naloxone could mean a 21 percent reduction of opioid overdose deaths, says the NIH. Narcan can be found at many pharmacies and clinics, and experts recommend opioid addicts and their loved ones keep a dose at home.
Get Help Now
It’s never too late to start the road to recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.